It had been nearly a month since the last World Poker Tour event, and players who prefer to play on North American soil were anxious for the North American Poker Championship to begin at Fallsview Casino. The WPT was there, as were some of the top players in the world, and they were ready for action.
The 2007 main event in Niagara Falls brought 504 players to the tables, and Scott Clements was the ultimate victor who took home the WPT title and $1,361,724 first prize. The 2008 main event began with three starting days, so the final number wouldn’t be known for several days into the event.
There were 125 players on Day 1A, all of whom ponied up the $10,300 CAD to compete in the WPT Canadian leg of its seventh season. Some of the names in the crowd were Erik Seidel, J.C. Tran, Nenad Medic, Cory Carroll, Isaac Baron, Roy Winston, Annette Obrestad, and the 2006 main event champion Soren Turkewitsch. Only five levels were played as planned, and Obrestad was the last casualty of the day, being eliminated by Winston.
When chip counts of the 76 surviving players were calculated, J.C. Tran was in the lead with 159,300 chips, and those who followed in the top five were John Mori, Christian Harder, Dario D’Agostino, and Brian England.
Day 1B brought more big names to the tables including Barry Greenstein, Gus Hansen, Lee Markholt, John Cernuto, Robert Mizrachi, Vanessa Rousso, Amnon Filippi, Scott Montgomery, Adam Junglen, Theo Tran, Dan Heimiller, Hevad Khan, and Noah Schwartz. With 163 players came a lot of action in the five levels of play, but it would be the following day’s numbers that everyone was waiting for.
When play ended, Jamie Rosen sat atop the leaderboard with 196,300 in chips, followed by John Hollein, Lee Markholt, Xuan-Tien Nguyen, and Pat Pezzin.
The third starting day brought 166 players to the Canadian felt, making the size of the total field 454. A reduction in 50 players from the 2007 event seems to be par for the course in World Poker Tour and other American-based tournament circuits this year. With tournaments running in various locations in Asia, Latin America, and Europe, players have more choices and are opting for the travel and possibly softer playing fields. In addition, it wouldn’t surprise if the sagging world economy played a role in the decreasing numbers as well.
Day 1C boasted of names like Daniel Negreanu, Erick Lindgren, Carlos Mortensen, Darus Suharto, and Borgata Poker Open champion Vivek Rajkumar. Sitting atop the chip count list at the end of the day was none other than WSOP November Nine contender Suharto with 188,000. Behind him on the list were Stephen Chidwick, Kenan Zhang, Steve Paul-Ambrose, and Dashmir Zyli.
Finally, all of the 275 remaining players joined together for Day 2 and another five levels of the North American Poker Championship. It was near the beginning of play that the prize pool was announced as $4.37 million. The top prize was set at $1,250,352, and the last 45 players standing would receive a piece of the tournament pie.
Some of the early departures from the field included Mark Seif, John Phan, and Daniel Negreanu. As more players inevitably busted from the event, others rose to the top, like Gavin Smith and Kathy Liebert. Also maintaining his status near the top of the leaderboard was Matt Matros .
Only 99 players survived, with Smith holding the lead with 405,900 in chips. Matros was second with 383,800, and Vivek Rajkumar held the third spot with 342,100. Ryan Fisler and Robert Cheung rounded out the top five, respectively. Also remaining in the field were John Cernuto, Joe Sebok, Lee Markholt, J.C. Tran, and Barry Greenstein.
Day 3 found less than a hundred players competing for spots in the top 27 as well as places on the payout list. November Nine member Darus Suharto was one of the first players ousted early in the day, while the most recent WPT champion, Vivek Rajkumar, soared into the chip lead after busting Jeremy Joseph. J.C. Tran was eliminated early, and Lee Markholt was sent away before the money, as was Barry Greenstein. Mike McDonald was sent away before the bubble, and Steve Sung was, in fact, the bubble player when he left in 46th place.
As players began taking their share of the prize pool for leaving the tournament, Matt Matros went the other direction. By eliminating Claude Gaudet in 42nd place, he took the top spot on the leaderboard and became the first player to sit above one million in chips. As the day progressed and the end was in sight, hand-for-hand play took over with 28 players left. Finally, Mark Karam eliminated an opponent to end it, and with Gavin Smith in the lead, followed by Rajkumar, Matros, and Kathy Liebert, the final 27 retired for the night.
The fourth day of play would determine the six finalists, and it was not lacking for action. “Miami” John Cernuto took the honors of leaving in 27th place to start the day, and he did so with pocket eights versus the A-Q of Gavin Smith. An ace came on the turn to send Cernuto out in 27th place with $43,745.
Play progressed with Rajkumar tumbling and leaving the tournament early in the day, ending his hopes for back-to-back WPT titles. As the final table got closer, Martin Raus left in 15th place, Khaled Aljoma in 14th, Brian Hawkins in 13th, and Mark Zajdner in 12th place. All of them received $56,868 for their deep finishes. Jason Potter was eliminated in 11th place with $56,868 as well, which sent the remaining players into hand-for-hand play.
Erik Seidel was all-in preflop with pocket queens, and it was Marc Karam who called with . The board ran out , and Seidel was out in 10th place with $56,868.
Dominic Staniscia put the rest of his chips at risk after a flop of with for two pair, but he was up against the of Gavin Smith who had the straight. The turn and river were and , and Staniscia was out in 9th place with $69,992.
Sam Greenwood was the next to attempt a double-up by moving all-in after an initial raise from Matros. Glen Witmer and Matros called to see the flop of . Witmer pushed all-in, prompting Matros to fold. Witmer showed pocket nines, and Greenwood couldn’t do better with pocket fives. The turn and river were and respectively, and Greenwood was sent packing in 8th place with $87,490.
Finally, with the final table looming, Matros made the first raise, and Gavin Smith called. The flop came , and Matros bet. Smith raised enough to put Matros all-in, and Matros made the call with . But his top pair was outkicked by Smith’s . The turn solidified it with for Smith’s two pair, and the river of was it for Matros, eliminating him in 7th place with $109,362.
With that, the final table was set. Play would resume on Day 5 under the lights and cameras of the World Poker Tour production set with the following players and chip counts ready to play for the title and first place prize money:
Seat 1: Kathy Liebert 1,620,000
Seat 2: Gavin Smith 2,815,000
Seat 3: Marc Karam 1,850,000
Seat 4: Glen Witmer 3,710,000
Seat 5: James Trenholm 1,365,000
Seat 6: Ryan Fisler 2,285,000
With Witmer in the driver seat but Smith and his momentum coming up behind, not to mention several pros who had the capability to change the direction of the table entirely, it would be anyone’s game. Players were set to return on Thursday, October 16th to determine the outcome.
(Thanks to WPT Live Updates for specific hand and chip count information.)